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  • Aarik Danielsen

I'm Always in Love

I’m in love with you. There. I said it.


Before those words strain beneath weight they cannot bear, let me take a step backward and engage in the lover’s timeless tradition: deferring to the artists, granting their work permission to sing for my sake.


Let me make you the tiniest mixtape, two songs from the patron saints of disillusioned dads and punch-drunk poets everywhere.


 
If holy scriptures abide many interpretations, surely rock songs are fair game.
 

First up, Wilco and “I’m Always in Love.” Singer Jeff Tweedy slips behind a symphony made of a thousand radios tuning, his voice resting atop the cover they provide. Over a span of 3 minutes and 41 seconds, Tweedy’s love is a boast and a burden, a test pattern for wishful thinking transmitted across fraying wires, something best described as a worry.


The short set concludes with The National’s “Demons,” Matt Berninger singing as if drawn by a magnet that doesn’t act all at once, but pulls in slow pulses. “I’m going through an awkward phrase,” he admits. “I am secretly in love with everyone that I grew up with.” On paper, a line break divides the two statements; on the record a definite breath comes between. My mind elides them into a single sentiment.


If holy scriptures abide many interpretations, surely rock songs are fair game. At first blush, Tweedy sings from inside a panic. My ears filter out tones I don’t want to hear, and “I’m Always in Love” becomes the sound of beautiful resignation—acceptance of how we might live, not with wild, unfaithful flesh but a promiscuity of the soul.


“Demons” suggests a sort of nostalgia; perhaps the last, adult expression of an adolescent wish for belonging. Instead, the way I choose to hear it, Berninger bends to let me borrow language for a phenomenon I’ve long known, long struggled to name.


How many times have I tripped through a series of humble cathedrals—a diner, a coffee shop, a theater—spied another soul in the distance and felt blood rush between my heart and my head? Witnessed something hidden inside them, something just behind the eyes, and felt myself blush? Burned to hear their story, then wished to be tucked inside its folds?


Maybe this isn’t how normal people talk, but I hear Tweedy, then Berninger, and suspect we’re all just rewriting Thomas Merton.


The monk, who adopted a Kentucky home, beautifully recalled standing on a Louisville street corner “suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.”


Maybe Merton’s skin flushed like mine. Maybe, with a touch of prophecy, he hummed “I’m Always in Love.”


He wished to speak up, but this isn’t how normal people talk.


“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun,” he crooned, seeing clearer than most ever do.


This feeling I feel, this inconvenient ache in the presence of friends and strangers, resembles what we so often call a crush. Until it doesn’t. I grow overwhelmed with a sixth sense—or perhaps it’s the sense created in us first—that every person I encounter is a miracle, practically vibrating with life and divine possibility.


 
Like falling head over heels, I don’t want to miss out on you. Unlike infatuation, I want to give you better gifts.
 

Merton further fleshes out this reflex, keeps his words ringing true:


“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.”


But unlike the crushes I’ve known—Katie in junior high, Brittany in high school, too many girls at our Baptist college—I always see light, then the other side of the soul. I see it right away. Everyone I know is full of holes, ugly words scratched into their skin.


I don’t shut my two eyes to reality. But I fight to let Merton’s Light (let the man have his metaphysical discovery, as we would a scientist) shine brightest, to form the lasting picture.


The sense resembles a crush until it doesn’t. Like falling head over heels, I don’t want to miss out on you. Unlike infatuation, I want to give you better gifts.


No furtive kiss to steal the breath, but a hand to hold while we cross into a clearing—a hint of snow in the air—and let the stillness of God’s world recreate us, outside in, openness to fullness. No scrawled-out confessions, not even in these sentences, but an arrow pointing to Ted Kooser’s weather-pattern poems and Mary Oliver’s lines about miracles and Joy Harjo’s words like bottles of Southwestern light. Sentences that build you a shelter.


 
I want to walk you home and be the first to see the look cross your face when you know in full that you are shining like the sun, shining brighter than the brilliance of every Christmas light we noticed on the way.
 

In spite of myself, I won’t write you songs. Songs that came so easy facing every crush before my wife. Not The One, as in the only one I could ever love, but the one who defied Top 40 rhyming conventions and three-chord patterns. Instead, more mixtapes as mad science—one after another until a sound surrounds you, until you hear the song which promises to never stop consoling you.


I want to walk you home. But not the way a suitor does, the way Ram Dass spoke of—all of us leading each other somewhere safe, somewhere soft and lasting. I want to walk you home and be the first to see the look cross your face when you know in full that you are shining like the sun, shining brighter than the brilliance of every Christmas light we noticed on the way.


I want to be there on the night you can no longer sing along with another line from “Demons”: “When I walk into a room, I do not light it up. Fuck.”


Jeff Tweedy opens his song with this wonderfully shaggy couplet: “Why, I wonder, is my heart full of holes. And the feeling goes, but my hair keeps growing.” Those who know me see how the second half of the lyric stays true.


But the first half says so much. My heart is full of holes, each corresponding in size to someone I run across. But the moments when we really see each other, falling in love with the people God makes, the holes fill with light. You are mine, and I am yours.




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